When we think about going on a diet, calorie restriction is the first thing that comes to mind. We restrict our food consumption for a defined period of time in order to rid ourselves of those extra fleshy bits we have accumulated over an extended period of indulgence. In the media we read that dieting can be associated with a myriad of psychological disorders, including feelings of inadequacy, but what if for some of us, it was simply a result of feeling over-burdened by our own over-indulgence?
Recently, a new diet has joined the plethora of weight loss solutions, however this has nothing to do with what you put in your mouth, but rather what you put in your hand. It is referred to as “decluttering,” the act of getting rid of material items that you no longer need, cutting the excess household fat per se. Feng shui is an ancient Chinese belief system about how our surroundings affect us. The Feng shui opinion on the effect of clutter on your health and the overall quality of your life is very clear – clutter drains your energy and dampens your very best intentions.
We have known for many years that we live in a society with high obesity rates from the over consumption of food, but only now are we becoming aware of an obesity epidemic of another kind, material obesity, the result of the over-consumption and subsequent accumulation of material items. Like the chocolate cake that momentarily brings me some emotional ease after a break-up, the purchase of stuff to fill my closet and my home also feels good, and falls under the same category of “self-soothing techniques:” emotional regulation through consumption. In a nutshell, there is no difference between retail therapy and chocolate cake therapy. We might argue that the former is a healthier option, but is it? Are we not beginning to feel the burden of all this extra weight?
In an article I published years ago, I discussed the ethics of over-eating and the idea that over-eating can be a form of waste. We are conditioned to think that despite being full, if we finish everything on our plates, we haven’t wasted, when the truth is that once you’ve eaten more than you needed, it was the equivalent of sticking it in the bin. The same goes for all that stuff in your storage room or tucked away in the back of your closet, never to be used again. When we buy things we don’t need or keep things we don’t need anymore, we are wasting. It’s our denial of the object’s irrelevance in our lives that keeps it there, rotting in the shadows. By not letting go, we are guaranteeing its place in the rubbish tip, preventing it from having another chance at life somewhere else with someone else.
In the last 2.5 years I have moved my family twice, and I am very uncomfortably familiar with all of the excess fat I carry in this household. I have personally packed each piece of material excess into a million boxes and paid a thousands of dollars to have it moved from one house to another. I know what it feels like to live with much less. I have been poor, I have backpacked on a shoestring, and I have gone camping for extended periods of time in the wilderness. I can assure you that what I have in these labelled boxes goes well beyond what I need. So why is it that we pay so much money to move and keep the things we don’t need? Expensive movers, expensive boxes, and big expensive houses, all to help us keep and store the things we can’t let go of.
As emotional relationships with food are possible, the same can happen with our material world – the memory of the feeling we had when we obtained that specific item, our hope to use it in the future (aka “denial”), and our need to hold onto a past that no longer exists. I have held onto so many things for so long, all in the hope to re-experience the past, that pleasure/pain feeling that one gets when they stub their toe on that dusty box of nostalgia. Despite these feelings, we must be mindful of when this accumulation of past paraphernalia begins to limit our experience in our present. I mean, exactly how much time do we spend managing these items? How much life are we missing out on as a result?
I’m not suggesting you purge everything and move into your tent. This is what camping trips are for, our opportunity to regain our connection to the Earth and to distance ourselves from our stuff. Find balance instead. Like all diets and in all things, there are extremes. Decluttering has its bulimia and anorexia equivalents, and we need to remain mindful of this. If you are consuming new items at the same rate than you are purging old ones, then you are essentially eating a Christmas buffet then jamming your finger down your throat. You are not doing yourself any favors. On the other hand, if you rid your home of every single indulgence, passing pleasure and warm memory, then you are essentially starving yourself. Don’t do this. Discover the power and freedom of letting go in order to create a balance in your relationship with the material realm. And when you do stumble across those jeans that make you feel like a rock star or find yourself in the company of a giant chocolate cake and good friends, buy the jeans and eat the fucking cake. Have two pieces, I insist. But please, please, please, when those jeans no longer fit, find them a new home. And when it’s time to feed your body some greens, please put down the cake and eat your salad. Try to find your balance in all that you do.